Design thinking

Designing Guest Emotions

Thomas Nilsson

As hospitality researchers seek alternative approaches toward understanding and enhancing customer experience, emotions have become the new frontier. Some recent service design work in hospitality settings demonstrates the strong impact emotions have on customer satisfaction, loyalty and willingness to pay more. “Guest emotions” has emerged as a future theme, gradually taking precedence over guest satisfaction as the ultimate goal of providers.

Guest emotions and design opportunities in relation to hotel stay experiences are the basis of this article.

We introduce a four-level model of emotional design for hotels that aims to clarify the relationships between offerings, design emphases and guest perception.

The Psychology of Being a Hospitality Consumer

When designing a hospitality experience, the designer looks at the construction of the whole service; its customer touch points, including face-to-face interaction, digital, self-service and the artifacts/environments that are important to the experience; and the service’s back end, including provision, maintenance and progression. A comprehensive understanding of all stakeholders is also important for the success of any service.


Whether dormant or conscious, the needs, aspirations and drivers of everyone involved in a service experience stem from an interplay between physical, cognitive and emotional factors – all factors equally important yet governed by the personality of each individual. New personality segmentation models divide people along such traits as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, also called the Big Five. Depending on the personality of the user, the response to any given experience may vary greatly. It’s imperative to have an understanding of different guest segment personality profiles as well as conflicts that may exist within different offerings. A neurotic parent may experience positive emotions if a hotel provides a basic children’s medical kit in the bathroom and contact details for a pediatrician. A conscientious environmental activist may appreciate a five-star hotel but feel guilty about the carbon footprint of his/her weekend stay.

Four Emotion Strategies

In this model created by Kathy Pui Ying Lo at Loughborough University and adopted by Veryday, we show four emotion strategies (functional, sensorial, experience and meaning) that shape the customer relationship (from transactional to relational), and the associated attributes that evoke emotions.

Bare essentials (Subtractive)

The primary aim of this strategy is to reduce guest costs and hotel operational costs. A guest’s basic needs are provided for and the intended emotional outcome is pleasant, positive, calculative emotions, i.e., the happiness of saving money yet having a convenient place to stay.

Value added (Additive)

This strategy is based on giving guests the opportunity to add special features to their stay that enhance sensorial enjoyment. For example, being offered a choice of pillow, duvet or mattress type may provide delight when getting in to bed. Or better yet, being pampered upon arrival with tea and scones. The value added customization strategy is intended to evoke explorative types of emotions, such as amazement, excitement, wonder and delight.

Special (Personal)

This strategy is about providing experiences and in this case, ones related to the individual and his or her circumstances/status, identity and wellbeing. Experiences that leave a lasting impression and make a hotel stay memorable. Pleasant surprises that bear witness to a hotel treating each guest as special and considering his or her whole persona – like providing a welcome treat or an area guide customized to the guest’s country of origin, age or gender. Child kits for families – with toys, diapers, videos in their native language, etc.

One and only (Tailor-made)

Using more tailor-made strategies, hotels personalize services to fit each individual guest’s particular needs, preferences and aspirations. By considering the guest’s individuality, pleasant surprises are staged through personalized and meaningful features or services. The guest is treated uniquely and the whole hotel experience is tailor-made: a bathrobe and slippers in the correct size, books and magazines that truly appeal to their interests, a room set to their preferences (temperature, type of bed, mini fridge content, lighting design, toiletries, etc.), a tailored guide to the area and pre-selected activities that match their schedule – to enjoy as they choose.

An understanding of your customer segment is often not enough when striving toward experiential offerings. Deeper insight into different personality profiles is imperative, as is a deeper awareness of where conflicts arise in different offerings.

Pure positive emotions and, hence, meaningful experiences, arise from services that truly cater to the needs, aspirations and drivers of the customer. An understanding of your customer segment is often not enough when striving toward experiential offerings. Deeper insight into different personality profiles is imperative, as is a deeper awareness of where conflicts arise in different offerings.

As competition increases, market advantage is best achieved by keeping customers you already have as opposed to repeatedly recruiting new ones. Giving an existing customer more than they expect creates a customer for life. Having a loyalty strategy improves the brand, drives loyalty and promotes referrals. It’s particular to note that referred customers are four times more valuable than customers acquired by other means. They spend twice the amount of money and refer twice the number of new customers as non-referrals.

Applying service design to hospitality, evolving offerings and creating a better fit for the needs, aspirations and drivers of your guests – be it catering to basic needs or providing a memorable experience – may be invaluable not only to your customers but also to the future of the hospitality industry.